By Jay Walljasper
After being acclaimed as America's best city for biking in
2010, what can you possibly do for an encore?
In the case of Minneapolis, Minn., you do even more bicycling--and
more walking, too.
People here biked and walked 16 percent more in 2011 than in
2010, when Minneapolis was crowned "#1 Bike City" by Bicycling magazine. St. Paul, and a number of inner-ring suburbs
nearby, showed similar growth.
Biking rose 22 percent across the Twin Cities compared to
2010, according to data just released by Bike Walk Twin Cities (BWTC). And it's
up a whopping 53 percent since 2007, when the organization began counting
bicyclists and pedestrians at 42 locations from Beltline Blvd. in St. Louis
Park to Larpenteur Avenue in Falcon Heights.
Walking is also on the rise in the Twin Cities. Pedestrian traffic rose 9 percent compared to
2010, and 18 percent since 2007.
Furthermore, Minneapolis gained more national recognition
for its burgeoning culture of active transportation. It came in ninth in WalkScore's
walkability rankings of America's 50 largest cities, second in the Midwest
after Chicago. That put it ahead of Portland (12) and Denver (16). St. Paul
would have ranked 15th (third in the Midwest) if it were among the 50 largest
BWTC has conducted bike and pedestrian counts over the past
five years as part of the federally funded Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot
Program (NTPP), which is focused on enabling Americans to switch from driving to
biking and walking for many short trips. BWTC is a program of Transit for
Livable Communities, a nonprofit focused on increasing transportation options
The pronounced rise of two-wheel and two-feet travel between
2010 and 2011 is attributable in part to an array of street improvements--including
more bike lanes and special bicycle-and-pedestrian boulevards--installed
around town in the past year as part of the NTPP. The Twin Cities was one of
four communities around the country designated as transportation laboratories
in the NTPP legislation, which was passed by a Congress in 2005 and signed by
President George W. Bush.
"The goal of this project from Congress was to shift some
trips, and this data shows it is happening," says Director of BWTC Joan Pasiuk.
"The implications for overall health and transportation access are outcomes the
community will realize from the numbers we're reporting."
Bike and pedestrian counts on the Lake Street Bridge, for
example, show the increase in biking translates to 96,000 fewer auto trips at that
location in 2011 than 2007, explains Tony Hull, BWTC's Nonmotorized Evaluation
Analyst. He arrived at that figure by using a model developed by Alta Planning & Design of Portland, Ore., as part of the National Bicycle and Pedestrian
Overall, people made 1.1 million bike and pedestrian trips
across the bridge in 2011.
"This is a massive number of people that need to be factored
in our transportation policies," Hull notes. "It's not just nice that people
are biking and walking more today. It's a significant form of transportation,"
which he says offers positive results for public health, the environment and
our sense of community.
Accurate bike and pedestrian counts are critical to the
growth of biking and walking in America, Pasiuk explains. "Policymakers act on
hard evidence--they want to be able to know if their investment is paying off
and that more people are relying on biking and walking as a regular
transportation pattern. These counts show what's happening on the streets in a
way everyone can understand."
The busiest spot for bicyclists in this year's count was 15th
Avenue and University Avenue, near the University of Minnesota campus, with 787
riders and 1840 pedestrians counted between 4 and 6 p.m. in mid-September.
I was on hand at the second busiest spot, the Sabo Bridge on
the Midtown Greenway, where 767 riders and 60 pedestrians crossed over Hiawatha
Avenue. It was a chilly afternoon with howling winds that felt more like March
than September. Yet waves of bicycles rode by, ridden by everyone from executives
in business suits to Native American children from the nearby Little Earth
Rolf Scholtz tallied each one as they passed. He's the
president of Dero Bike Rack Company, located in the nearby Seward neighborhood,
and one of 54 volunteers who took part in the project.
"We let our employees out to do the counts every year," he
said. "Bike riding is going crazy around
All the people counting bike and pedestrian traffic were
trained by BWTC and were checked on at least once by expert staff during their
two-hour shift. Some cities use paid counters from temp agencies, Hull notes,
but BWTC believes volunteers are more diligent and accurate.
The counts have been carried out the second Tuesday,
Wednesday or Thursday of September for the past five years, to ensure a
"This data is rock solid," Pasiuk says. "BWTC is using state-of-the-art methodology for tracking and interpreting data."
BWTC also conduct counts on the second Tuesday of every month
at six locations around town. They have turned in surprising results--20
percent of bicyclists and 75 percent of pedestrians continue to bike and walk
throughout the winter despite Minnesota's frigid, snowy weather. Given the
trends reported today this is no surprise, just more evidence of the
transportation shift that the Twin Cities underscores.
Jay Walljasper is the editor of OnTheCommons.org, and senior
Fellow at Project for Public Spaces. He is the author of The Great Neighborhood
Book, and has written about cities for National Geographic Traveler and other
Photos courtesy of Bike Walk Twin Cities.